Data may be the New Oil, but is your ‘Oil’ a Liability or an Asset?


Artificial Intelligence (AI) (also known as machine learning) is becoming a reality, but what does that mean for established businesses and what can they do to benefit from these new emergent technologies? According to a recent article by the Harvard Business Review, when asked, most business leaders answer that ‘data is the new oil’, meaning that data, and not oil, will increasingly drive our economic futures, despite recent concerns and more stringent legislation. If this is indeed the case, and your company is sat on an ‘oil reserve’ of data, then it can consider itself lucky, or can it? You collected this data for a purpose, and no doubt it has high intrinsic value, but if your aim is to exploit this data then how do you go about it and, more generally, stop it from becoming a liability from which there is no return?

The ‘data is oil’ analogy is partly true. It is valuable, but, as Clive Humby, the mathematician who is widely credited for coining the phrase said in 2006, unrefined data cannot really be used, it has to be changed to create a more valuable entity that drives higher level activity, in the same way that crude oil has to be refined and processed. At OceanWise, we believe it is much more fundamental than that. For data to be useful, it also needs to be accessible and understandable. Much of the data that potentially could have wider value, for commercial gain or otherwise, is tied up within a specific application or within one department. It is impossible to share that data across the organisation as a whole, for use in other applications or for other purposes. This ‘legacy’ approach means many organisations have silos of data that are not widely appreciated – or valued – within the organisation itself, let alone by external providers, customers or the general public. In other words, for data to be useful beyond its immediate purpose, including as input to AI, then it needs to be considered an asset and managed accordingly.

What this means in reality is that organisations need to view and organise their data assets in much the same way as their other assets, by knowing what it is, what it is used for and who is responsible for it. It also means putting the systems that they have in place to manage their data on par with their other business management systems, such as for quality, environment, health and safety, and information security. Many organisations fail because data is considered an ICT function, and not a key asset to the business. ICT needs to play a part but data governance has to come from – and have the full support of – the highest levels of management. So, to realise any commercial gain from data in the new information economy – or just simply to increase its value or be more efficient in managing it – the basic principles of data management need to be put in place and communicated. Only then, after this has been accomplished, will your data assets be ready to enhance your business, with or without the help of AI.

OceanWise is organising a workshop on turning data commonly used in ports and harbours from a liability to an asset. To find out more, and to attend, please click here.